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Beep, click, sizzle! How does the brain process onomatopoeia?
Aug 24, 2016
The word TREE does not look like an actual tree, nor does it sound like one. Indeed many words in Germanic languages like English and Dutch possess a largely arbitrary link between their form and their meaning. Onomatopoeic words like beep, click, and sizzle are notable exceptions: they sound like what they mean. A recent study by David Peeters investigated how the human brain processes such onomatopoeic words when hearing them. more >
Mante Nieuwland
I completed my BA, MA and PhD Cum Laude degrees in Psychology all from the University of Amsterdam. My PhD project on semantic and referential aspects of discourse comprehension was supervised by Jos van Berkum. I've subsequently worked as a Rubicon post-doctoral researcher at Tufts University with Gina Kuperberg (2007-2009), as a staff scientist at the Basque Center for Cognition, Brain and Language (2010-2012) and as a Chancellor's Fellow/Tenured Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (2012-2016). I currently serve on the editorial board of Cognition and the Journal of Memory and Language, and I am a Language Section Editor for Neuropsychologia. I am particularly interested in how the brain achieves high-level aspects of language processing, such as pragmatic and referential meaning, and in the role of incrementality and prediction in language comprehension. more >
Does clickbait apply to academia?
Aug 12, 2016
A recent study in The Winnower found that journal articles whose titles contain clickbait-y characteristics are shared more widely. Analysing over 2000 titles from articles published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2013 and 2014, revealed that positive framing and more interesting phrasing lead to more attention online. more >
People are sensitive to the meanings of foreign words, and some people are more sensitive than others
Jul 29, 2016
Languages across the world are use similar sounds to express similar meanings. This gives people an advantage when learning words in a language they've never heard before. In a new study, MPI researchers Gwilym Lockwood, Peter Hagoort, and Mark Dingemanse taught Japanese words to Dutch people with no knowledge of Japanese. People learned the words better if they learned the real Dutch translation than if they learned the opposite Dutch translation. This is because people can recognise the possibly universal cross-modal correspondences between the sounds of a word and what that word means. Brain measurements also showed that the more sensitive people were to cross-model correspondences, the harder they found it to suppress the conflicting information from the Japanese words learned with their opposite Dutch translations. more >
How narrative perspective influences reading
Jul 29, 2016
How does the style in which a novel is written influence you reading experience? In a recently published study, we looked at the influence of the perspective from which a story is narrated on experiential effects of literary reading. We found evidence that readers report to get more immersed into stories told from first person perspective and that they like these stories better. During reading stories in third person perspective we found higher activation of the sympathetic nervous system. more >
Our brain benefits from an overlap in grammar when learning a foreign language
Jun 29, 2016
Researchers from Nijmegen have for the first time captured images of the brain during the initial hours and days of learning a new language. They use an artificial language with real structures to show how new linguistic information is integrated into the same brain areas used for your native language. more >
Julia Uddén awarded with 5-year grant to study how the teenage brain supports development of communication skills
Jun 15, 2016
The language learning process does not end when the child masters vocabulary and grammar. Adolescents continue to learn how to use language effectively in different contexts. This learning process must be supported by development of the adolescent brain, but there is yet no research done on this topic. Julia Uddén aims to fill this gap, and was just awarded 5 years of funding from the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences to pursue this research. more >
Putting things in new places: your native language influences what you expect to hear in your second language
Jun 06, 2016
Languages differ in how they describe simple acts of placement, e.g., putting a cup of coffee on the table. The Dutch placement verb 'zetten' for example, characterizes objects as ‘standing’ (vertical orientation). Other languages leave this position feature unspecified. Van Bergen and Flecken, Neurobiology of Language department, show that when you are listening to descriptions of placement events in your second language, you make predictions about what you will hear based on your native language. more >
New Post-Doc: Alexis Hervais-Adelman
May 17, 2016
The human speech processing system needs to be sufficiently adaptable to identify the content of utterances produced by different individuals, who have different vocal apparatus, different accents and prosodic idiosyncrasies, which results in the same linguistic target having different acoustic realisations across speakers. Beyond coping with natural inter-talker variation, listeners with an intact auditory and language system are readily able to understand speech under a wide variety of sub-optimal listening conditions. For example, we can understand speech transmitted over a poor mobile phone connection or in the presence of loud background noises and echoes, or even speech that has been artificially manipulated to reduce its level of acoustical detail. How the brain is able to make sense of such degraded and variable signals is a critical question for our understanding of the mechanisms of speech perception. more >
Yet more evidence for questionable research practices in original studies of Reproducibility Project: Psychology
May 03, 2016
A recent publication in Science claims that only around 40% of psychological findings are replicable, based on 100 replication attempts in the Reproducibility Project Psychology (Open Science Collaboration, 2015). A few months later, a critical commentary in the same journal made all sorts of claims, including that the surprisingly low 40% replication success rate is due to replications having been unfaithful to the original studies’ methods (Gilbert et al., 2016). A little while later, Richard Kunert published an article in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review re-analysing the data by the 100 replication teams (Kunert, 2016). He found evidence for questionable research practices being at the heart of failures to replicate, rather than the unfaithfulness of replications to original methods. more >
Does copying your partner's language make them like you?
Apr 18, 2016
A quick internet search for flirt tips teaches us that aligning your behavior with the behavior of the person you like (i.e. whenever they cross their arms, you cross your arms; whenever they touch their head, you touch your head) increases the chance that this person will like you back. A similar idea has also been proposed in language research: a speaker's (desired) relationship with their conversation partner would influence how much they align their linguistic choices with this partner. In a new study published in PLoS ONE, we tested this hypothesis. more >
New Post-Doc: Atsuko Takashima
Mar 22, 2016
Multiple levels of processes are taking place in the brain when we describe a situation out aloud. Processing of visual inputs, retrieval of appropriate nouns and verbs to illustrate the scene, putting words in a correct syntactic structure together with the functional words, and translate the constructed sentence to a motoric output. On the brain level, these include processing of perception, retrieval of information from memory, keeping online words to be constructed in the working memory buffer, selection of appropriate syntax, and adequate motor output. In the current project, we aim to investigate the brain structures that are involved in sentence production, especially differences in the brain activation level that is dependent on 1) the sentence complexity and 2) the presence/absence of semantic feature to the critical verb. more >
New Post-Doc: Yingying Tan
Mar 08, 2016
In psycholinguistic research, one of the major questions concerns the nature of the memory mechanisms underlying sentence processing. A number of previous works have highlighted the important role that working memory (WM) and executive control play in language processing. However, no final conclusion about the nature of this relationship has been reached, such as whether there is a unitary WM system or one that contains multiple components and if there are multiple components, whether there are different memory capacities (e.g. phonological, semantic, syntactic) specific to language processing, or whether, instead, individual differences in language processing derive from variation in executive control ability or linguistic experience. more >
People tailor their hand gestures to the needs of their addressee
Feb 25, 2016
Do people shape their actions as a function of their intentions? In our new paper, published in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, we describe the results of two experiments in which we had participants make pointing gestures for an addressee in an interactive set-up. During the experiments we recorded the exact kinematic properties of their gestures by a sensor that was placed on their index finger. We also analyzed their brain activity while they were planning the gestures, by means of EEG. more >
It’s easier to learn words that sound like what they mean
Feb 11, 2016
Over a lifetime, we learn tens of thousands of words. What makes some words easier to learn than others? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics taught Japanese words to Dutch students and found that ideophones —words that sound like what they mean— are easier to learn than regular words. This may be due to universally available associations between sound and meaning. more >
Difficult grammar affects music experience
Feb 03, 2016
Listening to music while reading affects how you hear the music. Language scientists and neuroscientists from Radboud University and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics published this finding in Royal Society Open Science. more >
Avatars for language science: How virtual reality enables more realistic experiments
Jan 27, 2016
Avatars are all around us: they represent real people online and colonise new worlds in the movies. In science, their role has been more limited. But avatars can be extremely useful in linguistics, new research shows. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics use virtual avatars to investigate how real people behave in interaction. The method makes it possible to study with great precision how people adjust to each other in conversation. more >
New PhD: Rene Terporten
Jan 26, 2016
Language is an incredible flexible instrument that enables us to generate infinite different expressions from a finite set of linguistic units. This flexibility becomes emphasized when different contexts influence the meaning of a context embedded expression. My project aims to contribute to a general understanding of this flexibility in language processing, by investigating the role of underlying brain network dynamics of a language system, as context varies. more >
"Right now, Sophie *swims in the pool?!" Temporal information is processed different from semantic and morpho-syntactic relations
Jan 12, 2016
When we tell others about events or actions taking place, we usually also express when they occurred. In English, speakers must specify whether an action is currently in progress (using the -ing marker such as in "Sophie is swimming") or not. This marker of grammatical aspect should be in 'agreement' with any preceding temporal information. In the example above, the temporal adverbial 'right now' sets the stage for an event which is currently ongoing, and is thus in disagreement with the aspectually unmarked form 'swims', which has a different temporal interpretation. more >
Broca’s Area processes both language and music at the same time
Nov 09, 2015
When you read a book and listen to music, the brain doesn’t keep these two tasks nicely separated. A new study shows there is an area in the brain which is busy with both at the same time: Broca’s area. This area has been long associated with language. That it is also involved in music processing may tell us more about what music and language share. more >
New PhD: Valeria Mongelli
Oct 26, 2015
Language and consciousness are two closely interrelated topics. Nowadays, it is widely accepted that some linguistic processes can occur in the absence of consciousness. However, the limits of unconscious language processing are still a largely debated issue. more >
Review Paper: Iconicity in the lab
Sep 29, 2015
This article is a review paper about experimental research on sound-symbolism from the last few years. The paper is a nice one-stop shop for almost everything you've ever wanted to know about sound-symbolism research but were too afraid to ask! more >
David Peeters defends PhD thesis on Sept. 14th!
Sep 10, 2015
One of the most important functions of language is that it allows us to refer to the things in the world around us. We continuously do so, for instance by using spatial demonstratives in combination with a perfectly timed manual pointing gesture (“look at that guy!”). more >
Production – perception interactions
Aug 13, 2015
It is well established that speech production and perception interact in intricate ways. Not only is speech perception necessary for speech production acquisition – deaf children don’t learn how to speak – but research in recent years has shown that perception and production interact also in adults’ speech. In our current study in the Proceedings of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, we investigated one type of long-term interaction: if production and perception interact on a regular basis, one would expect, over time, individual differences to correlate in these domains. more >
How language influences our perception
Jul 08, 2015
How does language change what we see? In our new paper, published in the open-access journal Neuroscience of Consciousness, we used an inventive way to investigate at which level of processing linguistic material modulates visual perception. more >
Ideophones in Japanese modulate the P2 and late positive complex responses
Jul 06, 2015
This article is about the interaction between sound-symbolism and sensory processing. Sound-symbolism is the non-arbitrary link between sound and meaning. In Dutch and other European languages, this only covers onomatopoeia, but many other languages and language families around the world have lots of sound-symbolic words to describe lots of different things (e.g. the Japanese word nurunuru, which means "slimy"). These words are known as ideophones. more >
Neural overlap in processing music and speech: a commentary
Jun 30, 2015
When you listen to some music and when you read a book, does your brain use the same resources? This question goes to the heart of how the brain is organized – does it make a difference between cognitive domains like music and language? In a new commentary Richard Kunert highlights a successful approach which helps to answer this question. more >
Everything you always wanted to know about our research
Jun 24, 2015
We will open our doors to everyone interested during the Open Day on Saturday June 27. We have also prepared a short film about the basic questions motivating our work: A Celebration of Language. On top of that, we have just published our Research Report, in which we detail our research highlights over the past two years. more >
Fast oscillatory dynamics during language comprehension
Jun 23, 2015
Neural oscillations play an important role in the dynamic formation of functional networks in the brain. Such networks are important for communication between brain regions and for segregating different types of information (at different frequencies) being sent from region to region within the brain. Language processing involves multiple types of information (e.g., syntactic, semantic, phonological) represented at various different levels and likely involves the representation and exchange of information within such frequency-specific functional networks. In a recent article in a special issue of the journal Brain and Language on Electrophysiology of Language we reviewed the literature on beta and gamma frequency oscillatory dynamics found during language comprehension beyond the level of processing single words (sentence-level processing and beyond). more >
New post-doc: David Peeters
Jun 09, 2015
Advances in technology constantly change the ways in which we can investigate the neurobiological underpinnings of language. In my post-doc project I will make use of virtual reality (VR) to study our linguistic and communicative capacities in rich, visual contexts. more >
Neurobiology of Language

What is the neurobiological infrastructure for the uniquely human capacity for language? The focus of the Neurobiology of Language Department is on the study of language production, language comprehension, and language acquisition from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Read more...

Director: Peter Hagoort

Secretary: Carolin Lorenz


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